Sex, expletives, controversy, passionate affairs – and all this before I had turned on to Hope Street. Starting as, I very much hope, this new theatre means to go on, Adam McCoy’s Closer is barefaced and brazen; reckless, raw – and all too real.
Originally written by Patrick Marber over twenty years ago, McCoy revitalised the story to incorporate contemporary concerns. The audience undertakes an intensive scrutiny of two London couples as they embark on a four-year-long game of partner swap. Boy meets girl, another boy meets another girl; original girl meets latter boy, latter girl meets original boy. And it’s as messy as that sentence.
Each couple slips and slides between love and lust and the sticky area between the two. Alice (Amber Blease), an edgy blonde on the run from New York’s sex industry, spots her unexpected match: an awkward journalist sporting a nervous shiftiness and circular specs – just moments before she’s hit by a car. He plays the knight in shining trench coat to win her over. Attracted, smitten, love-sick and then bored – Dan (Sam Donovan) moves on to Anna (Ariana Fravel), a photographer dressed in sophistication and a crisp white shirt. It’s love, again. But Anna quickly sees through his quirky charm and ends up meeting Larry (Jake Norton) in a beautifully Tinder-like fashion. A dermatologist by day, a bit creepy by night, skin is Larry’s forte and, when he meets Alice a few years later, he can’t help but propose an examination. However, environmentally conscious, the couples can’t help reverting to recycled goods. Home is where the heart is – or is it?
There’s short silk dresses, heated kisses and cut-throat quarrels. The most shocking feature, though, is the honesty. Each of the four are privy to the dirty secrets of their partners’ and often openly discuss the nature of these affairs. They are excruciatingly awkward conversations to observe, but brilliant all the same. Their lives become dangerously entwined and their behaviour at once ignorantly and self-consciously destructive; flipping from scenes of comedy to tragedy and a brutal collision of both. It was a wild watch for a Thursday evening.
You find yourself enduring a turbulent relationship with the characters yourself – in love with them two scenes in, yet not too keen by the interval. This effect reflects well on the cast, successfully presenting relatable people caught in all-too-identifiable situations. You love them because they share your naivety, helplessly navigating relationships in a confusing social and technological contemporary world – but that’s why you hate them too. Perhaps some scenes are too long, at some points feeling tangential, but the substance is there – and it is powerful.
The set design, courtesy of Anna Souter, is minimal and thus multifunctional – succinctly sweeping scenes from strip club to art gallery, bedrooms to hospitals. This malleability captures the point – location is irrelevant; the stage is a psychological space, a blank white canvas, shining a glaringly bright spotlight onto the complexities of human nature – there is nowhere for the characters to hide as they dramatise their deepest desires in their primitive forms.
It was long and at times complicated, but undeniably refreshing; an insightful commentary on the way we engage in relationships, delivered by a confidently competent cast. At once fun and thought-provoking, creating moments of light-hearted humour, but giving you something to carry home. I have swiftly swept this first production from the Hope Street Theatre Company to the right.
Photography: Andrew AB Photography